Your Purebred Puppy, Honest Advice About Dogs and Dog Breeds

Sensible advice for raising your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy so he lives a long healthy life and seldom needs to visit the vet. Learn about the most common health problems and issues in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, the best dog food diet for feeding Cavalier puppies and adult dogs, the truth about vaccinations, spaying and neutering, and natural health care.


11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy, my best-selling dog health book

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel dog breed

Cavalier Health Problems and Raising a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Puppy to be Healthy

By Michele Welton. Copyright © 2000-2014

How To Raise a Healthy Dog
Feeding the Best Dog Food
Feeding the 2nd Best Dog Food
Vaccinations: Needed or Not?
Are You Sure Your Vet Is Good?

The most common health problems in Cavaliers:

It pains me to say this about such a lovely and sweet-natured breed, but the fact remains that this breed is in serious, serious trouble.

With Cavaliers, it all starts with heart disease – specifically, mitral valve disease, the #1 killer of this breed. Up to HALF of all Cavaliers will develop MVD by 5 years of age, and virtually ALL (99%) will have it by 10 years of age.

MVD is a true epidemic in the breed. Responsible Cavalier breeders must wait until age 3 or 4 before they will allow a Cavalier to breed, hoping that these older dogs who haven't yet developed MVD might be contributing genes that are more resistant to it. In addition, responsible breeders will only breed Cavaliers whose own parents made it to at least 5 years old without developing MVD. Finally, they're maintaining registries of the longest-lived Cavaliers in the hopes of incorporating these lines into their pedigrees.

No one should acquire a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel today unless they're prepared to spend lots of money for heart care and to very likely lose their dog in middle age.

As if heart disease wasn't enough, epilepsy is also a serious problem in Cavaliers.

And the newest disease to strike this hard-luck breed is syringomyelia (seer-IN-go-my-ELL-ya), where a Cavalier puppy is born without enough room in his skull to accommodate his brain.

This lack of space causes the brain stem to become kinked and the back of the brain to be forced out of the skull and into the opening to the vertebral canal. This, in turn, forces cerebrospinal fluid into the spinal cord itself, and this kind of pressure hollows out a cavity in the spinal cord, hence the name syringomyelia, which translates to "flute spinal cord" (i.e. the affected spinal cord is hollow like a flute).

Some Cavaliers are only mildly affected, while others are severely so. Symptoms typically appear between 6 months and 3 years old, though syringomyelia has been diagnosed in Cavaliers up to 10 years old.

The most common symptom is an odd one – the dog scratches at his shoulder when excited or walking on a leash. This scratching is presumed to be due to abnormal skin sensations, because humans with syringomyelia have described the sensation as "creepy crawling" or "burning pain." Affected dogs may also be sensitive around their head, neck, and front legs, and may suddenly yelp for no apparent reason. Pain may be related to head posture – some affected dogs begin sleeping or eating with their head held up.

The most severe cases have spinal cord damage and are significantly disabled by 12 months of age, with a twisted neck, wobbly hindquarters, and/or weakness in their front legs.

There's no cure for syringomyelia, but mild cases can lead relatively normal lives, with the goal being to reduce the abnormal skin sensations that cause scratching and the pain that causes yelping. Acupuncture is a good first step. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can help. Surgery is too experimental and risky. Severe cases progressively deteriorate and have to be put to sleep.

Now let's turn our attention to the joints (knees and hips). The most common orthopedic health problems in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel are luxating patella (loose knees) and hip dysplasia. The Orthopedic Foundation of America evaluated the hip X-rays of 3525 Cavaliers and found 11% dysplastic. That's high for a small breed, and the true rate is even higher because most of the obviously bad X-rays were not sent in for official evaluation. For comparison, Shelties are at 5% and Cocker Spaniels at 6%.

Eye diseases in Cavaliers include cataracts, retinal dysplasia, eyelash abnormalities, dry eye, corneal ulcers, and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA).

Allergies cause itchy skin and can lead to bacterial skin infections ( pyoderma). Ear infections are common due to profuse hair in the ear canal.

Inherited deafness can occur in Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppies with a lot of white on their head.

Other health issues that occur in Cavaliers include diabetes, hypothyroidism, blood-clotting disease (thrombocytopenia), and hernias.

It's hard to find anything positive to say about Cavalier health, but one mild condition that occurs in the breed is "hanging tongue," where the tongue protrudes through the front teeth or hangs out the side of the mouth. This may be a structural defect or a neurological defect, but it isn't really anything to worry about.


You probably want to know if you can prevent those health issues from happening to YOUR Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

Yes, often you can.

  1. Some health problems are genetic, which means inherited from parents. Genetic health issues are common in Cavaliers today because of unwise breeding practices. My book, Dog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams, shows you how to find a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy who is genetically healthy.
  2. Other health problems are environmental, which means they're caused by the way you raise your dog. My best-selling dog health book, 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy shows you how to prevent environmental health problems by raising your Cavalier puppy (or adult dog) in all the right ways.

Here are my dog health tips for raising a healthy Cavalier puppy or adult dog:

Obedience instructor and author Michele Welton Dog Health Care – The Sensible Way
Read my advice on daily health care so your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel lives a long, healthy life and seldom needs to see the vet.


Real homemade dog food The Best Dog Food For Feeding Your Cavalier
The best diet for feeding your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is real food. Real chicken, turkey, beef, bison, venison, fish....This is not "people food" and I'll tell you why.


Natural dog foods for your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. The Second-Best Dog Food For Your Cavalier
If you can't feed homemade dog food, here are your next-best choices.


Information on booster shots for your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Vaccinations and Booster Shots: Needed or Not?
How many vaccinations does your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy really need? Does your adult Cavalier need yearly booster shots? The vaccination guidelines have changed. Find out what some vets aren't telling you....


Information on choosing the best vet for your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. The Type of Veterinarian I Recommend
Is your veterinarian really the best choice for your dog? Learn about the differences between vets who practice conventional, holistic, and alternative veterinary medicine.


Information on spaying your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Spaying Your Female Dog: Pros and Cons
Advantages and disadvantages of spaying your female Cavalier.


Information on neutering your male dog. Neutering Your Male Dog: Pros and Cons
Advantages and disadvantages of neutering your male dog.